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Belle Andersen extracted her mobile phone from her handbag and skimmed the text message she had received from Larissa Christakis, explaining how to reach her brother Loukas's private Greek island.
As I'm getting married on Aura, it would be wonderful if you could come to the island to work on the designs for my dress so that you can get a feel for the setting. You can catch the ferry from the port of Lavrion in Athens to the island of Kea. Let me know what time you plan to arrive and I'll make sure a boat is waiting to bring you to Aura.
The ferry had arrived at Kea ten minutes ago and the last of the passengers were disembarking. Further along the quay several fishing boats rocked gently on a cobalt sea that reflected the cloudless blue sky above. The little port of Korissia was a picturesque place. Square white houses with terracotta-coloured roofs lined the harbour and gleamed brilliantly in the sunshine, and behind them green hills swathed in a profusion of brightly coloured wild flowers rose in graceful curves.
Belle's artistic eye appreciated the beauty of her surroundings, but after a four-hour flight to Athens and another hour on the ferry to Kea she was looking forward to reaching her destination. Perhaps one of the fishing boats had been sent to collect her, she thought, lifting her hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she stared along the quay. A group of fishermen were standing around chatting but no one paid her any attention. The other passengers from the ferry had dispersed into the town. With a sigh she picked up her suitcases and began to walk towards the fishermen.
The May sunshine was blissfully warm after the grey, unseasonably chilly London Belle had left behind. Her lips twitched when she recalled her brother Dan's reaction to the news that she would be spending the next week in Greece while he remained on their old houseboat on the Thames, which had sprung a leak.
'Spare me a thought while you're hob-nobbing with a Greek billionaire on his paradise island, won't you?' Dan had teased. 'While you're topping up your tan I'll be patching up the boatyet againbefore I head off to Wales for a photo shoot.'
'I'll be working, not lazing in the sun,' Belle had pointed out. 'And I don't suppose I'll have much to do with Loukas Christakis. Larissa told me her brother spends much of his time at his company's offices in Athens, or visiting his many business projects around the world. Even the date of Larissa's wedding was determined by Loukas's schedule. Apparently the last week in June is the only time he has free.'
A frown wrinkled Belle's brow as she continued along the quay. During her conversations with Larissa the Greek girl had frequently mentioned her brother, and it was clear she adored him. But Belle had gained the impression that Loukas Christakis was a man who was used to having his own way, and she suspected that Larissa was slightly in awe of him.
The very fact that she had been asked to design and make Larissa's wedding dress, as well as dresses for her two bridesmaids, in five weeks rather than the six months she would usually expect the commission to take was due in part to Loukas, Belle mused. Of course he was not responsible for the fact that the first designer his sister had commissioned had suffered some sort of personal crisis and disappearedLarissa had been rather vague about the details of what had happenedbut Loukas's insistence that the wedding should still go ahead at the end of June as planned must have put Larissa under enormous pressure. She had been close to tears when she had visited the Wedding Belle studio a week ago, and clearly relieved when Belle had assured her that she could make her a dress in time.
Her frown deepened as she recalled the tremor in Larissa's voice when she had explained that she needed Belle to come to Aura and begin working on designs for the dress as quickly as possible. She hadn't even met Loukas Christakis yet, but she instinctively disliked him, Belle thought with a grimace.
She gave herself a mental shake. It wasn't fair to allow her dislike of domineering John Townsendthe man she had grown up believing to be her fatherto colour her judgement of all other men. Larissa's brother was probably charming. Certainly enough women seemed to think so, if the reports in the gossip columns about his energetic love-life with a bevy of beautiful mistresses were to be believed.
A flash of movement far out to sea caught her eye and she halted and watched a speedboat streaking towards the harbour, churning up twin trails of white froth in its wake. It slowed as it approached the quay, the low throb of its engine shattering the quiet. Sleek and powerful, the boat was eye-catching, but it was the man at the wheel who trapped Belle's gaze and caused her heart to jolt beneath her ribs.
When Larissa had said someone would pick her up from Kea and bring her to Aura it hadn't crossed Belle's mind that that someone might be Loukas Christakis himself. The pictures she'd seen of him in newspapers and magazines did not do him justice, she thought dazedly. Sure, the photographs had faithfully recorded the thick jet-black hair swept back from his brow, his chiselled features, square jaw and the innately sensual curve of his mouth. But a photo could not capture his aura of raw power, the magnetism that demanded attention and made it impossible to look away from him.
'Are you Belle Andersen?' His accented voice was deep and gravelly and so intensely male that the tiny hairs all over Belle's body stood on end. Heat surged through her and her skin suddenly seemed acutely sensitive, so that she was aware of the faint abrasion of her lacy bra brushing against her nipples.
'Y yes ' To her embarrassment the word emerged as a strangled croak. Her heart-rate quickened as she watched him steer the boat broadside against the harbour wall, and throw a rope around a bollard before he jumped onto the quay.
'I'm Loukas Christakis,' he announced, striding towards her. Supremely confident and self-assured, he moved with surprising grace for such a big man. He was well over six feet tall, Belle estimated, and narrow-hipped, his long legs encased in faded denims that moulded his powerful thighs. Through his close-fitting black tee shirt she could see the delineation of his abdominal muscles, and the shirt's vee-shaped neckline revealed an expanse of bronzed skin and wiry black chest hair.
Dear heaven, he was something else! Belle swallowed. Never in her life had she felt so overwhelmingly aware of a man. Her heart was racing and her palms felt damp. She wanted to speak, make some banal remark about the weather and break the tension that gripped her, but her mouth felt dry and her brain seemed to have stopped functioning. She wished he wasn't wearing sunglasses. Perhaps if she could see his eyes he would seem less imposing, although somehow she doubted it.
Professionalism finally came to her rescue and she held out her hand to him, thankful that her voice sounded normal as she murmured, 'I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Christakis. Larissa spoke of you when she visited my studio in London.'
Was it her imagination, or was there was an infinitesimal pause before he grasped her fingers in a brief handshake? His grip was firm, and once again she was conscious of his power and strength. He towered over her, his big body silhouetted against the bright sunlight, and unbidden she found herself wondering what it would be like to be crushed against his broad chest.
He released her hand, but to her surprise instead of stepping away from her he took hold of her arm. 'I am delighted to meet you too, Ms Andersen.' The greeting was perfunctory, and Belle detected a faint edge of impatience in his tone. 'I need to speak to you. Shall we find somewhere to sit down?'
Without waiting for her to reply he picked up the larger of her suitcases, slid his hand beneath her elbow and steered her across the road to a bar, where tables were set beneath a striped awning. Belle struggled to keep up with his long stride in her three-inch heels. She felt like a recalcitrant child being dragged along by an impatient parent and she glared at him indignantly, but before she could say a word he pulled out a chair and she found herself guided firmly down onto it.
No doubt tourists found it a charming place to spend an idle hour watching the boats in the harbour, she thought with a frown when Loukas rounded the table and lowered himself into the seat opposite her. But she had come to Greece to work and she was eager make a start.
'Would you like a drink?' A waiter materialised at their table, and without waiting for her response Loukas spoke to the youth in rapid Greek. The only word Belle understood was retsina, which she knew was a Greek wine.
'Make that a fruit juice for me, thank you,' she said quickly.
The waiter glanced at Loukasalmost as if seeking permission to bring her the drink she had ordered, Belle thought irritably. She checked her watch and saw that it was eight hours since she had left home that morning. She felt hot, dishevelled, and in no mood to pander to a man with an oversized ego. 'Mr Christakis, I don't actually want a drink,' she said crisply. 'What I would like is to go straight to Aura. Your sister has commissioned me to design her wedding dress, and with a deadline of just over a month it is imperative that I start work immediately.'
'Yes ' Loukas lifted his hand to remove his sunglasses and subjected Belle to a cool appraisal. 'That's what I want to talk to you about.'
His eyes were the colour of flint, hard and uncompromising. Disappointment swooped inside Belle when she noted the distinct lack of welcome in his expression. What on earth had made her think that her intense awareness of him was reciprocated? she asked herself impatiently. Even more ridiculous was the notion that she wished it was. She frantically blanked out the thought and forced herself to meet his gaze, conscious of the uneven thud of her heart as she studied his heavy black brows, his strong nose and full-lipped mouth. The shadow of dark stubble on his jaw only added to his blatant sex appeal.
What would it feel like to have that sensual mouth move over hers, at first in a leisurely tasting, and then crushing her lips beneath his in hungry passion? She was shocked as much by the clarity of the image in her head as by her wayward thoughts, and felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
Loukas's eyes narrowed and his gaze became speculative. Had he guessed what she had been thinking? Mortified, she felt her blush deepen. Everything about himfrom the proud angle of his head to his relaxed, almost insolent air as he trailed his eyes over herexuded arrogance. No doubt he was used to the effect he had on women, Belle thought dismally, wishing the ground would swallow her up.